We looked last time at 3 examples in the Scripture where the WHAT was right, but the HOW was wrong… in leaders, leadership team members and in individuals. The Bible teaches that it is not enough to just do the right things… the WHAT may be OK, but HOW we do what we do matters also to God. So what’s your experience – and how does your local fellowship do what it does? In its methodology, does it follow the example of our Lord and "exalt God’s Name and His Word above all things"? (Ps. 138:2)
Sadly, my conclusion is that many evangelical churches don’t do so well at this. In many cases, the way that churches do what they do – their methodology - clearly exalts man over God's Name and His Word – even when they are doing “the RIGHT things.” This is clear and sadly undeniable. As I continue to think about this further - and to observe the patterns more often, it is a heart-ache to realize the truth and extent of the problem.
When we rely on ourselves and human methodology, we deny the leadership of the Holy Spirit and exalt ourselves over the true head of the church. And often, it is not what we say that we are doing, but what we actually do that indicates the problem. But once again, don’t take my word for this… decide for yourself. Evidences of our usurping control from God, and the absence of genuine leadership of the Holy Spirit in the body is seen in a number of ways. Today, let’s look at the root issue – the thing that makes HOW we do even the right things wrong, and next time we’ll look at some “fruit” that follows.
I’ll offer some questions for you to ask yourself. Take a look at your own heart… the “HOW” for you… and look at the methodology used in your own local church by its leadership. Here’s a question to consider which will indicate to you whether the HOW in your experience exalts God’s Name and His Word above All THINGS:
When determining what to do as a practical matter, do you place greater practical value on human wisdom than on spiritual direction? In many cases, church decisions are driven more by reliance on human pragmatism than by waiting on God for spiritual direction and power.
What methodology does your church employ in the decision-making process? Is it, at its heart, human wisdom, sprinkled with pragmatism – or do your leaders honestly rely on spiritual means to make spiritual decisions? Just to get to the heart of the matter, I'll be blunt: Does dependence on prayer and actual use of the Bible receive lip-service, or is it your actual experience? Specifically:
1. Is prayer essential to your decision-making? Do you pray – really pray – seeking and expecting guidance from God in your decision-making process? Do you wait to hear from Him, or do you assume that your way is the right way?
In setting a course of action, some church leaders talk about being led by the Holy Spirit, but in fact (as a practical matter) follow their own best thinking, and assume the Holy Spirit’s leadership resides in their own plans. Prayer – when it happens at all for these men – is either something perfunctory before the discussion (“Dear Lord, guide our thinking…”) or a token thought after the decision has been made (“Bless our efforts, Lord”). Sadly, some church leaders appear to spend more time telling people about their process of “seeking the Lord’s guidance in prayer” and “studying the Word for direction” than the time they actually spend doing so as a group. All too often, corporate prayer for direction is a sadly rare phenomenon.
Think of the example of the example of Jehoshaphat, when confronted by the armies of Moab and Ammon (2 Chronicles 20). His first reaction to the news was that he “…set his face to seek the LORD” (20:3). Listen to his prayer:
“O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you – for your name is in this house – and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom would not let Israel invade when they came from the last of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy – behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” Meanwhile, all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. (Emphasis added)
They saw the problem. They made a decision to do nothing other than to set out to find the LORD, they focused on His character and His promise, and announced their intention to wait for God’s deliverance… and they stood there and waited for His answer. And this prayer, waiting and total attention on the LORD was their ONLY preparation for the battle!
Here’s my question put another way: When was the last time you were working with a group of Christians and had no idea how to proceed… with no indication of how to address an issue, and the group stopped to pray – really pray, with passion and expectancy – and seek the Lord’s face for wisdom and direction - determined to do nothing except what the Lord would then reveal... beyond the scope of prior thinking?
Are these examples in the Bible for someone else’s benefit? When we read our own church history, and hear of men who in leadership past have earnestly sought the Lord for direction and power, does their example provide no direction for us today?
All too often for busy church leaders, business meetings are well attended while the prayer meetings are neglected. Why is this? I would suggest that this happens because prayer is either unimportant or impractical in practice… and it is easier to be pragmatic and proceed with our own wisdom than it is to set our own reasoning aside and to seek the Lord’s direction.
We all acknowledge that God wants to lead us, and we should seek His direction in prayer, but too often our knowledge doesn’t translate into our own course of action! When prayer isn’t a practical part of the decision-making process, it becomes a token idea or an afterthought, devoid of passion, and our self-reliance demonstrates that we do not exalt God’s Name and His Word above ALL THINGS.
2. Do you actually use the Bible in making decisions? Is it actually important in the process? As a subculture, we are good in affirming the accuracy, priority, authority and clarity of the Scripture in theory. We say that "the Bible is our final authority for faith and practice", but in many cases, we do not use the Bible in our group decision-making process. As a practical matter, decisions are made by common sense, and the Bible is an afterthought in the process at best, normally used only to proof-text the conclusion already determined.
When confronted with a problem or need, do you go to the Bible for guidance and wisdom? Does it provide you direction? Is it really your “final authority for faith and practice”? Does anyone even bring their Bible to the meetings (and if they do, do they open them up and use them in the process)?
When was the last time you saw a decision made based on the Bible’s direction and authority? When was the last time you changed your mind – and your behavior – because of something you read in the Bible? Sadly, many church decisions are made without even a thought of whether the Bible might have something to say about the subject. We’ve talked previously about the attacks on authority, priority, relevance, and clarity of the Bible – and in many cases, people will practice decision-making as if those attacks are true even when they deny them theologically.
From Francis Shaeffer to Charles Colson to David Wells, with empirical George Gallop and George Barna and their ilk, one need not go far to hear the indictment of the intellectual dishonesty and biblical illiteracy of evangelical movement today. Never in the history of the Church have so many had so much information, so many translations, so many books, aids and study helps - and so little interest in actually reading and knowing the Bible as the modern day American, middle-class, suburban evangelical church.
Why are our congregations growing in size, and declining in confidence in the Bible? Do our increases in attendance and influence somehow offset the decline in Biblical thinking and practice? And as churches become more “corporate” in their leadership structure, it is increasingly less possible for us to use the Bible – as a practical matter – in our decision-making process?
When a decision is made based on our wisdom and thinking rather without carefully considering God’s revealed Word and direction, it’s more than a shame… it’s more than a tragedy: It is sin, no matter how much anyone pretends that it is not, or wishes that it is not the case. And it does NOT exalt God’s Name and His Word above ALL THINGS.
So what is your experience personally? And what is the pattern of your local church? Is prayer the means to decision-making, integral and important, or is it an afterthought? Do you practically, actually use the Bible to determine decisions? Are your decisions governed by what the Bible has to say? Or would it be likely that it is as likely that the Bible doesn’t even enter into the process at all?
The evangelical movement is in trouble because it does not practice what it preaches. When did evangelicals become “deists” in their theology of decision-making? We were the movement that talked about “a personal relationship” and God “walking and talking” with us! Has God abandoned those practices, and set us in motion to work things out for ourselves while He watches from a distance? All too often, leaders talk about hearing from the Lord, but in practice they are following their own human wisdom. One man comes up with an idea, the leadership team endorses it, it’s announced with fanfare to the church and it is implemented – all without a Word from the Lord!
There is no substitute for exalting God’s Name and His Word above all things in HOW we do what we do. It is not OK to do even the right things the wrong way. We find His way to do things by earnestly seeking Him and His direction in prayer and in His Word.
A focus on doing things God’s way – with His direction and under His power is not just hard… humanly, it is impossible! Doing things God’s way means that we must renounce ourselves, our plans, our methods… ourselves, and cast ourselves totally on Him. This posture requires, of course, brokenness and humility before God, and a right relationship between each of us and God.
When practical reliance on prayer and the Word is lost or in decline in church leadership, several things happen. If you are willing to see them, they are clearly observable. When the HOW is wrong, we can pretend that we are doing these things – and even fool some people - so in my next post, I’ll offer some warning signs that show that the HOW is wrong in any local church. After all, even if we fool everyone who sees, we won’t fool the One who counts. And His Word indicates that He isn’t amused.
Next time: “HOW” - We Can Know Our Methods Are Wrong…